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A Skip Langdon Novel
Nemesis: the rival fate never allows you to beat.
The nemesis of Skip Langdon, New Orleans police detective, is Errol Jacomine. This evangelical preacher has been leader of his own frenzied army of converts, has run for mayor of New Orleans, and now wants to become president of the United States. His campaign methods are rabble-rousing, theft, kidnapping, and multiple murder.
Skip thinks he's as dangerous as Jim Jones. She has chased him for years, no luck. Now Jacomine comes after Skip, her lover, and her friends. She must track him down. But his guise this time is so clever even his own children don't recognize him.
In Mean Woman Blues, Edgar Award-winner Julie Smith returns triumphantly to her popular series about hip New Orleans detective Skip Langdon, once again operating in sensual, sexy, exotic New Orleans.
This time Skip is able to teach Jacomine that nemesis originally meant the goddess of retributive justice.
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Julie Smith currently lives and writes in the Faubourg Marigny district of New Orleans, a neighborhood of nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops where shady characters mix with artists. The author of nineteen novels, she was born and raised in Savannah before escaping to the University of Mississippi. After graduation, Smith became a reporter, first for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and later the San Francisco Chronicle. She lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years before returning to New Orleans.
Smith abandoned reporting for writing mysteries in the early 1980s, writing a series featuring attorney Rebecca Schwartz and a second series starring Paul McDonald, a reporter turned mystery writer whose fate you wouldn't wish on a dog. A few years later, she launched a third series featuring New Orleans police detective Skip Langdon with New Orleans Mourning, which won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1991. She currently alternates between writing about Skip Langdon and Talba Wallis, an African-American poet/private eye who debuted in "Louisiana Hotshot."
May is the cruelest month.
September has its moments, being hurricane season, but its meanness is unreliable. May is a sure thing.
On Mother's Day, give or take a week or so, the Formosans swarm, only slightly less consistent than the swallows at Capistrano. They continue their inexorable flight, sometimes in terrifying indoor clouds, well into summer.
Formosan termites, accidentally imported some years ago, are eating the city of New Orleans. They are doing it not in bug-sized nibbles, but in greedy gulps that some people say they can actually hear. They swear that in the dark of night, as they lie awake kissing their investments good-bye, they can hear the buzz of so many tiny saws, mandibles chomping their floorboards.
Perhaps they are merely blessed with good imaginations, but a visitor who arrives in the merry month, strolls a few blocks, and finds himself wearing a vest of termites may be inclined to credit them.
The unsuspecting stay-at-home finds himself in a fifties sci-fi film. It begins with a single bug. It may fall on his clothing or perhaps the desk upon which he's writing. He brushes it off, and another falls, like an earwig from the eaves of a porch. He looks up and sees a few winged creatures bouncing off the chandelier. Odd, he thinks, and goes back to his reverie. And soon there are more bugs. And more. And more. The room may fill with them, thick shrouds of them, circling, diving, turning the air into a seething dark mass.
It may seem the sensible thing to run screaming for cover, but in fact there is an easier way: Our hero can simply turn off the light, and they will leave or die. Or he can just wait, if he can stand it. The winged ones, the alates, or breeders, have about a two-hour life span, between seven and nine P.M., usually. Unless, of course, they manage to mate, in which case they will start a nest. The largest nest found to date had a diameter of three hundred feet.
Unlike other termites, these can build aerial nests, right in your walls. Brick or stucco houses are fine with them; they'll eat the door frames, windowsills, picture frames, furniture, and telephone bills, plus your favorite hundred-year-old shade tree. Except for exterminators, who shake their heads and look grim, like oncologists delivering the bad news, they have no natural enemies. The alates, so shocking in their thick, swirling clouds, are only a small percentage of the population, according to entomologists. A mature nest may contain five to ten million termites, though seventy million isn't unheard of.
Formosan termites now infest eleven Southern states, plus California, New Mexico, and Hawaii. Louisiana has the most severe infestation in the world (despite headway being made by state and federal baiting programs), and it is only natural that the bug has become, like the loup-garou (or Cajun werewolf), part of the local mythology.
The stories are legion: An alfresco wedding attacked by something resembling a Biblical plague. A window shut just in time, as hundreds of tiny bodies, drawn by the light inside, smash as if on a windshield. An ordinary backyard, covered in minutes by a carpet of termites. Fat garbage bags of wings, as many as ten or twelve, shoveled from the floor of a house.
Indeed, the month of May affords a brush with nature rarely seen by urban dwellers. Those of a metaphorical bent try not to think about the Mother's Day aspect.
* * *
Detective Skip Langdon, a veteran of many Mays in New Orleans, was trying to help her beloved through his first, mostly with diversionary tactics. She had seen Steve Steinman's face when he discovered the termite launching pads on his newly purchased, newly painted, hundred-and-twenty-year-old ceiling. He looked as if someone had died.
"Am I insured for this?" he said, and she desperately wished there were something she could do. The insurance companies weren't that dumb.
"Why didn't they find them when they inspected?" he asked, outraged.
"You can't know they're there unless you rip out the walls."
"Uh-oh. I've got a bad feeling that means I've got to do that now."
"Maybe you won't. They can probably drill holes for the poison." But she was lying. They might well have to rip out the walls.
No exterminator would be available for weeks, of course, and it's said the Formosans can go through a floor board in a month. The thing to do was keep his mind off it.
JazzFest was over, and the heaviness of summer was nearly upon them; Mother's Day brunch at a fine old restaurant sounded like a prison sentence. Yet Skip was a mother of sorts, or at least an aunt to the adopted children of her landlord, Jimmy Dee Scoggin. Dee-Dee was gay, and his partner, Layne Bilderback, had recently joined the household shared by Jimmy Dee and young Kenny and Sheila Ritter, the offspring of his late sister.
Dee-Dee wheedled. "We have to do something to remember their mother, keep the feminine spirit alive. Isn't it the decent thing?"
Steve said, "How about a hike?" and Dee-Dee countered, "Don't you get enough wildlife at home?"
But Skip pounced on it. If Steve wanted it, she wanted it. She wanted him in a good mood about Louisiana. He had moved there recently and restored a house (the one being gnawed), after months and years of thinking about it. A documentary filmmaker and film editor, he'd lived in California the entire time he and Skip had been dating. Their long-distance relationship had deepened on proximity. Skip was getting comfortable and liking it a lot. Steve had come to New Orleans for her, and his being there had enriched her life so much more than she'd anticipated that she felt responsible now--And motivated--eager to make him happy. A walk in Jean Lafitte Park, over in Jefferson Parish, ought to be wonderfully therapeutic.
There was almost a no-go when Jimmy Dee said they'd have to leave the dogs behind--Steve's shepherd, Napoleon, and the kids' mutt, Angel--because they couldn't go in the park itself and it was too hot to leave them in the car.
But in the end the three kids--Dee-Dee's two and Steve--rose above it.
They went in two cars, the uncles and Sheila in one, Kenny with
Skip and Steve. There was a reason for this; Kenny, being in his early teens, hero-worshipped Steve. The two uncles could have gotten their feelings hurt but had the sense not to bother. The average fourteen-year-old preferred baseball to opera; metaphorically speaking, it was that simple. And Kenny was such a gentle soul, even as a teenager, that no one could imagine he'd ignore anyone on purpose. Sheila was another matter. She'd probably chosen to ride with the uncles just to snub her younger brother.
Spilling from the cars, they stepped onto the natural levee that ran
along Bayou Coquille and instantly heard the silence of the swamp. It
was louder than the bullfrog croaks and insect ditties and birdsongs and animal slitherings that, in fact, were a concert in themselves. The two conditions were like stereo--you could listen to either or both, and the effect was like being on another planet. As the trail descended to the flooded forest of the swamp, the noises grew louder, and so did the silence. The air, though it was nearly ninety in the French Quarter, here seemed fresh and soft with breezes. It was too late for the wild irises, which bloom in great fields of purplish blue, but a few of the pale lavender water hyacinths, to some more beautiful than orchids, still floated on the water, gorgeous to look at, but in fact choking out the life of the bayou. In its way, the water hyacinth--imported from South America rather than Asia--is as deadly as the termites. A single plant can produce fifty thousand others in one growing season, killing the native plants, thus reducing available food for animals.
Yet to Skip, the day was so beautiful, the views so tranquil, the natural mix so seemingly harmonious that it was possible to forget unharmonious nature: weed against weed, man against bug, cop against thug. People were oddly quiet as they walked the trail; even Sheila, given to complaining about the personalities and intellectual capacities of her companions, was as sunny as the day, which would have been perfect even if they hadn't happened upon a Cajun band on the way home, playing at an outdoor restaurant where people danced under a shed. They stopped and had iced tea, enjoying the dancers, some of whom wore shirts from a Cajun heritage organization and one of whom wore a masterpiece of taxidermy on his hat: an entire duck, feet and all, intact except for its innards.
Afterward, they went home and barbecued. While Layne cooked, the other grown-ups sat in the courtyard Skip shared with the Ritter-Scoggin family, drinking gin and tonics while the kids watched television, Napoleon snoozed, and Angel tried to wake him up. The air was velvety, with a little breeze, and the mosquitoes weren't yet biting. It was absurdly familial. Skip was completely, deliciously happy, a feeling she sometimes distrusted.
But that night she dreamed, and the dream was like life. In the dream, she had a beautiful house, and then a tiny hole appeared in the wall; out of the hole came swirling hordes of termites, traveling in vortexes like tornadoes. More and more swarmed until the air turned black, and then there was no air, only chaotic, moving, living walls, trapping her and invading her nose, her ears, smothering, strangling...
Steve shook her awake, and she told him the dream, still moaning, shivering though it was late spring, unnerved out of all proportion.
"They aren't that bad," he said. "It'll be okay. But thank you for your empathy."
* * *
The dream wasn't about his termites. Someone could have said it was about him, about her fear of their relationship, her dread of becoming engulfed. But she knew it wasn't that. She knew what it was about, and she knew why she couldn't stop shaking.
It was about fear of dropping her guard, of looking away for even a second, of forgetting the danger that always lurked.
She had been happy too long, and something was happening t...
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Book Description Forge Books, 2010. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110765336219